Colby Community College announced the names of four individuals who will be welcomed to the CCC Alumni Hall of Fame. The class of 2017 includes former instructor Larry Koon, alumna Maret Schrader, former basketball coach Bin Graefe, and standout runner Betty Rotich.
A reception will be held in their honor Saturday, Nov. 4 in the lower level of the Colby Community Building from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. A brief plaque presentation is scheduled between the CCC men’s and women’s basketball games that evening at approximately 7:30.
The Colby Community College Alumni Hall of Fame was established in 2012.
Each year a committee selects individuals or couples who have made a substantial contribution to the college through personal time, effort and interest, or have contributed in a significant way to the lives of others after being part of Colby Community College.
A list of past recipients and nomination information can be found at www.colbycc.edu/alumni/hall-of-fame
The class of 2017:
Hired in 1968 as a sociology instructor, Larry Koon was reassigned to teach psychology because the class had more students. After that semester, he went on to teach psychology, as well as sociology, speech, computers, and other courses for the next 39 years.
“My goal as an instructor was to push students to understand the importance of learning and not just getting a grade,” he said.
From his childhood, Koon was encouraged to see the importance of education. Though his father quit school in the third grade and his mother quit her senior year of high school, they both wanted him to continue his academic pursuits. He received the same endorsement from James Tangeman, CCC’s second president.
“Dr. Tangeman urged me to take advantage of different schools to learn more about learning styles.”
Koon did just that. During his tenure, he enrolled in classes at eight different universities from Massachusetts to Kansas, Texas, and California.
He formed unique relationships with many students and taught them that everyone, even if they were broke college students at the time, would have an opportunity to “pay it forward” one day.
“I would put money in the bottom of my office desk drawer. I told students to take what they needed and somewhere in their life, give a person, school, church or country some money so they could succeed like they had.”
His efforts gained attention over the years. He was named Student’s Best Friend at CCC. He also received a student-selected Kansas National Education Association award, the Kansas Area Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year, and the Tangeman Award for Teaching Excellence.
By the time he exited CCC in 2007, Koon had instructed nearly 21,000 students. He worked in community service areas such as Special Olympics, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and the Lion’s Club. He also served on the Colby Community College Endowment Foundation board from 2009 to 2014.
“As a steward of God, I have learned that to help all is a goal we need to strive for.”
After leaving CCC Koon went to work for Northwest Kansas Technical College where he taught before retiring in May 2017. He lives in Colby with wife Deb. They have four children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Raised in Colby, Maret (Peterson) Schrader graduated from CCC in 2007 and currently teaches ninth-grade language arts at Seaman High School in Topeka. She was recently selected as a member of the Kansas Teacher of the Year team by the state Board of Education and serves as an ambassador for education in Kansas.
She believes the decision to attend CCC greatly influenced her career path and served as a starting point to where she is today.
“If it was not for CCC, I would have never gotten involved in the Kansas National Education Association Student Program,” she said. “It was through this organization that I found my pre-service teacher voice and learned how to advocate for my students and my profession. It is also how I met my husband.”
She reflects on the faculty that inspired her and helped expand the way she views the world.
“Carolyn May was my first exposure to what life was like as a teacher. She provided us with multiple opportunities to ‘get our feet wet.’ Dr. [Michael] Thompson opened my eyes to world issues that I might not have ever considered growing up in Northwest Kansas. Krista Carter encouraged me to discover my love for the psychology behind education and the ins-and-outs of the functions behind student behavior. It was because of these positive experiences that led me to eventually go back and work on my master’s in school counseling. Dr. [Keith] Copeland was an excellent example of how to actually teach writing. Larry Koon always made learning fun as he would bring the content alive with real-life stories that all of his students could relate to.”
Schrader is active outside of teaching responsibilities. She is an advisor for Kiwanis International’s Key Club, a student-led organization that teaches leadership through service to others. Her volunteer work in church and other community events frequently benefits young people, including a silent auction for a terminally ill-student that raised more than $10,000.
Being a voice for others seems to come naturally for Schrader, a calling she also followed in college.
“I was a student ambassador at CCC,” she said. “I always took pride in showing prospective students around campus as I was proud of where I went to school and knew that they would feel at home, too.”
Coach Graefe led the Trojan men’s basketball team from 1976 to 1980. He was the school’s first coach to win 20 games in a season and posted an overall record of 89-43. During that era, 11 players moved on to play Division I basketball.
His 1975-76 team fell one point short in the Region VI championship game. The next two seasons he led teams to the regional semifinals.
However, despite the on-court success, Graefe had doubts just hours after arriving in Colby. When his rental house was not move-in ready, college president Dr. James Tangeman allowed them to stay in the dormitory lobby.
“That first night, I found myself questioning whether I had made a poor decision. Bright and early the next morning, I opened the door to see Sandy Tangeman with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to welcome us to CCC. That gracious gift flipped us forward to acknowledge that we had indeed made the right decision.”
Graefe enjoyed working under Tangeman’s leadership.
“He inspired us all to bring our very best daily to assist our students. His demeanor was calm, but his presence was both strong and supportive.”
There were others who had a profound influence on the coach.
“Dr. Max Pickerill learned we had a player having a difficult transition from his Arizona home to CCC. He requested that the young man take his college chemistry class. I objected until he explained, ‘I don’t teach chemistry, I teach students.’ Pick prevailed, and that young man left CCC with a degree and a Division I scholarship to pursue his dreams.”
“Vic Oelke served as athletics director. He might be one of the finest Christian men I have had the pleasure of knowing. He always made time to console and suggest the ‘sky was not falling’ on CCC.”
But Graefe insists one person stood out.
“Colby College’s greatest gift was Ruth Ann Bielser from Hoxie. She not only was a CCC graduate, but she assisted Ruth Lowenthal in the library for many years. We united our blended families in marriage over 35 years ago and have celebrated life together ever since. Our family includes four sons and a daughter.”
Graefe took more than just memories from his tenure at CCC.
“During my most challenging time, I found a strikingly ugly stone north of the practice gym. On top of it, I painted in blue paint: Isaiah 40:31. That rock and what it advocates stays with me to this day.”
After leaving Colby Graefe coached at Central Wyoming College and Coffeyville Community College.
“It was a privilege to coach for 39 years, and I have always considered Colby Community College to be my most enjoyable basketball experience.”
She did not stay in Colby as long as most graduates, but Betty Rotich was a seven-time NJCAA All-American in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track between August 2006 and December of 2007.
Her accomplishments are more impressive considering Rotich did not run cross country or track in high school. She was a member of the soccer team.
“I weighed too much in high school to be a good runner,” said Rotich. “The first thing I had to do was lose weight. That took about a year, and then I trained for another 24 months in Kenya. I ran several local and regional races and started having some success. I considered going to Europe to run professionally.”
“I decided to give it one more year to get a scholarship offer from a school in the United States. My mom inspired me to keep trying. She told me I could do it and she was right.”
Rotich received a scholarship from Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis, Mo. She attended one semester at the school and then transferred to CCC.
“The scholarship was not what I expected,” said Rotich. “My uncle knew Coach [Jeff] Becker, and he encouraged me to transfer to Colby. It was a good decision.”
Starting with the 2006 NJCAA cross country national championship, Rotich captured six national titles in a period of seven months. In the 2007 indoor track season, she won the mile, 3,000m and 5,000m championships. She continued her dominance during the 2007 outdoor season by winning the 5,000m and set an NJCAA meet record in the 10,000m. By the end of the spring she earned NJCAA All-American, NJCAA All-Region VI and All-Kansas Community College Jayhawk Conference for her performances.
She currently holds seven CCC school records in the cross country 4K and 5K, indoor mile, indoor 3,000m, indoor 5,000m, outdoor 5,000m and outdoor 10,000m.
After graduating from CCC with two degrees, Rotich transferred to the University of Alabama. Her 5,000m and 10,000m outdoor times rank among the top five in Crimson Tide history.
Currently, she works as a nurse in Jacksonville, Fla. while perusing a doctorate in anesthesia at the University of North Florida. She and her husband have a four-year-old son who she says is also a runner.